I was cleaning out my pantry recently when I came across a handful of teabags. My first thoughts were, how old are these, and do tea bags expire? Not sure if I should keep them, I embarked on a little research.
So, do tea bags expire? If you’re wondering whether it’s OK to keep old or expired tea bags, the answer is “yes” as long as there’s no mold on them. Mold is easy to spot, so if you don’t see any, the tea should be safe to drink, although the color and flavor may have changed.
Many tea-drinkers are curious about whether certain tea types last longer than others, especially iced tea, which can taste rancid after a while. Tea enthusiasts also want to know what’s the best way to store tea bags and tea leaves.
Table of Contents
How Long Do Tea Bags Last After Best By Date?
Since several tea bags come in a box, it may take some time to use all of them. For the most part, you should brew tea bags within 1-2 years of the “best by” date. This date shouldn’t be confused with an expiration date. Tea manufacturers recommend that tea bags be used by the “best by” date for maximum flavor. Over time, the tea dries out, so older tea bags typically need to be steeped longer to achieve the same taste as they had when they were fresh.
Do Tea Leaves Expire?
Similarly, tea leaves typically last about two years, provided they’re sealed and stored in a cool, dry place. Like tea bags, tea leaves may lose their flavor over time, but they’re safe to consume. After all, tea leaves are essentially dried herbs, so they last quite a while if not exposed to moisture.
How Do I Know If My Tea Bags Have Reached the Best By Date?
You can find this information on the package. The date may be printed differently, depending on the manufacturer. Sometimes it appears in its common month/day/year format. In other cases, it’s a series of numbers with no punctuation or spaces between them. These date codes may be the day followed by the month and year or the month followed by the date and year. Each brand has its recommendations. For instance, if you’re wondering, “How long does Teavana tea last?” those teas can be good for up to three years under proper storage conditions. Other companies suggest you use their product within a shorter period.
If you don’t have the box anymore, you can sniff the tea bags to see if their aroma is “off.” If they don’t smell right, throw them away. Likewise, if bugs have taken up residence in them, discard them immediately. Ditto if you see evidence of mildew. The rule of thumb for tea bags, as with any food or beverage item, is “When in doubt, toss it out.”
As for powdered tea, manufacturers recommend that you use it within a year of the “best by” date.
Ultimately, the “best by” date is a measure of quality, not safety.
That said, you should not save tea bags that are moldy or bug-infested. If your tea comes into contact with moisture, it can mold and should be thrown away. If you notice holes in the tea bags or see something moving around in them, the tea likely has bugs and should be discarded. Likewise, if the tea was exposed to direct sunlight, it’s best to toss it. If the tea bags smell sour, then the taste will be at least as unpleasant.
Also, check out this video, and you will never throw your used teabag again:
Do Herbal Tea Leaves Expire?
You may be wondering, “Does herbal tea go bad?” or, more specifically, “Does chamomile tea go bad?” “Does green tea expire?’ ‘Does matcha powder expire?’ As long as they’re not exposed to direct heat, light, and moisture, herbal teas can last quite a while. Chamomile, for instance, can retain its best flavor for up to 2 years. Green tea has a longer shelf life than herbal teas, as the latter can begin losing their aroma and taste after six to twelve months.
While matcha powder is good for about a year, it’s best to use it within a month after you open it. Once it is exposed to air and other elements, its flavor and health benefits begin to diminish.
If you want to maximize your tea’s longevity, keep it in a sealed container or a Ziploc bag. Store your tea in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light. The container should keep moisture and bugs out.
If you want to store lighter-colored herbal teas to preserve their freshness, you can also freeze those tea bags. This method is not recommended for other kinds of tea, though.
What Causes Iced Tea To Become Cloudy and Is It Safe to Drink?
If you’ve ever kept iced tea in the refrigerator overnight, you may notice the next day that it looks cloudy. Can iced tea go bad?
To explain the color change, here’s a quick chemistry lesson. (Don’t worry, we won’t make you balance chemical equations or take a test afterward). Tea becomes cloudy when refrigerated due to a chemical reaction. Calcium and magnesium, necessary for the steeping process, are naturally occurring in water. When brewed, its polyphenols combine with these minerals, discoloring the beverage. Polyphenols are responsible for the color and health benefits afforded by tea. Higher-quality teas have a higher concentration of polyphenols, so the reaction is most pronounced with these superior brews.
Tea that’s been stored overnight in the refrigerator and looks cloudy isn’t necessarily unsafe to drink, as long as it’s been on the shelf for a week or less. However, chilling tea for a few days and nights can reduce its flavor, especially if it has absorbed the refrigerator’s odors.
If you’re working in a restaurant or serving iced tea for a party at your home, it’s better to make freshly-made tea rather than making it the night before. If you’re not going to refrigerate it, serve it within 6-8 hours of brewing. Consider pouring leftovers down the sink rather than saving them for the next day, especially if you’re working in a restaurant. Customers expect freshly-brewed iced tea that is pleasing to the palate — and the eye.
Tea can also appear cloudy or muddy if you are brewing it hot and then immediately serving it over ice. To prevent this, combine the hot tea with room temperature water first. When it’s cooled sufficiently, you can add the ice. This method prevents “shocking” — the drastic change in temperature that triggers the chemical reaction that clouds the tea.
Once brewed, tea only lasts about 5-7 days in the refrigerator. That’s why opened bottles or recently-brewed pitchers of tea can develop a rancid smell and taste within a week. If your tea has been sitting in the fridge for several days, it’s better not to drink it.
Watch this video and learn how to make your own tea bags:
What You Can Do With Old Tea
If you have old or expired tea bags that you don’t want to brew but would rather not throw away, you may be able to recycle them. Here are some possible uses for tea bags that have reached the end of their lifespan.
- Compost. You can toss old tea bags or leaves on your compost pile instead of into the trash can. The tea’s acid content breaks down other materials in a pile faster so they can enrich the soil.
- Nourish Your Garden. Brew some tea and when it cools, pour it over your garden greenery. It makes good natural fertilizer and smells better than the more conventional kind.
- First Aid. Tea has a soothing effect on burns or scratches.
- Hair Treatment. You may have heard that rinsing your hair with beer will make it shine. Washing your hair with chilled tea can be even more beneficial, as it will do wonders for an itchy, irritated scalp.
- Shoe-Deodorizer. Have a pair of tennis shoes you’ve been staying away from because they smell a little musty? Stuff them with some tea leaves, especially in the toe area, and leave them overnight. This remedy also works well if you need to freshen up a stale-smelling cabinet.
- Green Tea Mouthwash. Green tea has anti-bacterial properties, so brewing some and using it as a mouthwash freshens breath by killing oral germs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes some teas last longer than others?
Proper storage — in a sealed container kept in a dry, dark place — is critical. Larger, tightly rolled tea leaves and some processed teas have a longer shelf life.
Can old tea make you sick?
Expired tea may become breeding grounds for coliform, salmonella, and other pathogens, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other intestinal complaints. Properly stored tea shouldn’t make you sick
How can you tell if brewed tea has gone bad?
Opened bottles and other brewed teas last about a week. If you’re not sure how long it’s been out, check its odor and color. When in doubt, pour it out.
Does sweet tea go bad?
Sweet tea begins fermenting when exposed to air, so it’s best within a day of brewing. After that, it develops a bitter taste.
Are herbal teas widely available in powdered form?
Herbs in powdered form are not the best way to make tea. Straining the powder to brew tea is difficult, so you’re better off using the leaves instead.
The answer to the question, “Do tea bags expire?” is “no,” at least not in the same way perishable foods do. As long as they’re stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, they can last for two years or more. They do begin to lose their flavor over time, though. Also, keep in mind that once you brew those tea bags, the beverage’s shelf life is only about 5-7 days in the refrigerator.